Friday, February 10, 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2

2014's John Wick was a thoroughly-enjoyable throwaway action flick. A simplistic revenge story with style and some unforgettable stunts, director Chad Stahelski's film knew exactly what it was and just how to deliver. A callback to 80s-style of gun-toting heroes who shot first and asked questions later, the movie ignored modern trends of cutting action scenes into an unrecognizable mess and kept the camera still to allow us to see the awesome unfold on screen. Stunts we could actually watch and enjoy, imagine that.

The sequel is a little more muddled than the original. After the pre-credit sequence wraps up the lone outstanding piece of John Wick's revenge murder spree, the film slogs through a good 15-20 minutes of exposition, world building, and over-convoluted plot before remembering what it is and why it exists. Once the action ramps back up the film runs full blast to the closing credits, and perhaps beyond. John Wick: Chapter 2 ramps up the headshots and body count to an absurd degree with a handful of memorable kills that even put those from the first film to shame. At its best, it's running 180 MPH with its burning rubber on fire, but when it idles the vehicle nearly stalls. Okay, no more car metaphors.

As with the first film, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is forced back into action against his will. This time the push comes from an old acquaintance (Riccardo Scamarcio) calling in an old debt. Rather than just having that be the piece necessary to start the action, the script by Derek Kolstad dicks around for an extra ten minutes unnecessarily complicating what should be a rather straigtforward excuse to throw Wick back into the fire. Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, and Lance Reddick return as John Wick's support staff while Ruby Rose and Common head-up the cannon fodder between Wick and his latest revenge. And of course we get many, many extras who will end up in bloody heaps when they come between John Wick and his target.

As with the first film, Keanu Reeves is the best thing here. Yes, some of the supporting characters steal a few seconds, but this is John Wick's show from beginning to end. Ruby Rose comes the closest to stealing some of the spotlight, but her mute assassin is a bit too cute for her own good, and Common's character isn't developed enough for him to have a large impact on the story. As for Scamarcio, he's as cliched a movie villain you will find (which for a movie like John Wick: Chapter 2 isn't necessarily a bad thing, but given Wick's motivation isn't as strong this time around the film could a more memorable foil for our protagonist).

Given the film's ending I doubt this is the last we'll see of John Wick. That said, I wish the script hadn't wasted so much time on world building (which doesn't pay off here, and may not even in the next film), and instead had been solely focused on making one hell of an action film from beginning to end. Instead we get a good sequel that doesn't quite measure up to the original.

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